In the next week or so, I hope to read this headline: "Sen. Reid, we didn't lose. And there is hope in Iraq, President Obama, because there has been significant change. Now don't blow it just because you ran on a platform of retreat."
Not a headline? It ought to be.
Obama is a very lucky new president -- he has an emerging victory at hand. Securing it and reinforcing it will enhance his chances of achieving "Lincoln-esque" stature. The Iraqi people have earned their democracy. Historical accusations of "abandonment" and "self-defeat" don't burnish a presidential legacy.
Operation Charge of the Kings, launched in March 2008, showed that the Iraqi Army was able to plan and conduct large-scale combat and counter-insurgency operations. The U.S. and coalition forces, however, provided air, intelligence and logistical support.
In many respects, Charge of the Knights provided an example of what "strategic overwatch" looks like, the where U.S. air, intelligence and logistics assets aid Iraqi planned, led and manned security operations. "Strategic overwatch" is a delicate, multi-year process, "a wind-down" (force withdrawal) phase that could include a sudden "build-up" (reinforcement). "Strategic overwatch" is complicated -- it requires diplomacy, economic and political engagement, and steadying leadership.
Terror campaigns and insurgencies end with diminishing codas of violence. Peace and quiet -- prevalent during this past election -- instantly disappear when a terrorist tosses a grenade. The Iraqi government has improved markedly in its ability to handle internal violence, but troublemaking by neighbors like Syria and Iran remain a huge threat.
In Fargo, N.D., early last July, Obama began a "war flip-flop" by suggesting he might "refine" his Iraq policy. He needs to start refining right now -- and assure the Iraqis they will not be abandoned. The sharpest refinement would be to accept the challenges of "strategic overwatch" and help ensure a region-changing and potentially century-shaping victory.
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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